Op-Ed: Our Town, Our Responsibility

The Lackawanna train station is clearly one of the most iconic historic landmarks in Montclair. The development application now before the township comes down to demolishing the major section of this historic site for an asphalt parking lot. The public good, the justification for the demolition, is to provide additional parking and shopping cart corals to serve the existing, but still unleased supermarket space.

A supermarket use is not the developer’s choice. The Township is dictating this use to the developer. This application has already been judged a win-win with just some rearranging of the deck chairs remaining. A supermarket tenant continues to elude the developer and is not guaranteed. I am not aware of a Plan B for other uses that can coexist with the train station as it is.

Our Council, Planning Board, Zoning Board, Historic Preservation Commission, and architectural consultants support the demolition. The historic Cloverhill Neighborhood Association, the SaveMontclair advocacy group, the Business Improvement District’s business owners, and many residents of the 4th Ward, the direct beneficiaries of this public good, all support the demolition. Maybe the Pig & Prince owners include themselves, too. It seems immaterial to all that the defined public good here is transient while the harm is permanent.

This is the state of our public policy on historic preservation. It is an ‘after the fact’, superficial accommodation to allow us to retain the appearance of strong policy.

Our Historic Preservation Commission has acquiesced to political pressure and has replaced their precept of preservation non-maleficence with economic beneficence. They have moved away from preservationist activism to the role of a governmental “design police”. The Commission’s base constituency who call for retaining Montclair’s character have found the reality of preservation to be an encumbrance to this development. The HPC has lowered their standards to the point where they risk their reason for being.

Over five decades we have tried to alternately preserve and demolish the train station section by section. We have employed every level of regulatory protection to defend the site from the ongoing and increasing market pressures and political forces for development.

The site, suffering from neglect, was essentially intact when Montclair obtained the first protections: State and Federal historic designations in 1972-73. While these nominations acknowledged the site had no historic significance beyond the local level, they were the only available regulatory options at the time to provide a measure of protection. Yet, within a decade, Montclair used the Urban Renewal law to override these protections and direct the first round of demolition to construct a suburban strip mall.

Over the next three decades, Montclair tried to rectify the short-sightedness of that Urban Renewal project. It implemented a historic preservation ordinance, created the Historic Preservation Commission, and added an additional layer of protection for the train station with a local landmark designation in 2003. Memories fade, our demographics changed, and new values came with it.

Today, 15 years later, another round of demolition offers only extrinsic historic accommodations in exchange. A few original elements will be relocated. Many of the historic remnants will be repurposed into new structures and adornments around the parking lot’s periphery. The result will be the original train station becoming increasingly indistinguishable and require erecting historical signage to make sense of what is left. We are demolishing a major part of the station to expand a deleterious land use our Master Plan is against. The Plan states we will tolerate large, existing surface parking lots but clearly not permit their enlargement.

The foundation for this situation was laid over recent years. Part of that foundation that preservationists missed was the 2014 Montclair Center Study approved by the Planning Board and the Township Council. The study found the train station lot was in need of redevelopment because of the high incidence of crime. The criterion cited was the lot “being overcrowded, having a faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation, light and sanitary facilities, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use or obsolete layout, or any combination of these or other factors, detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community.” But, the fear of crime was the main card played. It was also played under Urban Renewal. It is being played again.

What the report omitted, and we overlooked, was the train station’s landmark status. The study did recognize the much less historic Wellmont Theater. The Wellmont holds neither local landmark status nor an individual State or Federal listing – all the designations we bestowed on the Lackawanna train station. An obvious, unexplainable omission by a very reputable, large, and established land use firm.

I originally supported this development plan because I was resigned to the outcome and lapsed into the “it’s a better strip mall than before” funk. Thankfully, someone I greatly respect and try to emulate challenged me to join those in trying to preserve one of our best examples of Montclair’s historic character. I am starting with this.

Frank Rubacky is a resident of Montclair.

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  1. Frank, this is a very informative piece. I am also in favor of keeping as many historical elements (in their original configurations) as possible in Lackawanna Plaza and the rest of Montclair. Those elements are an important part of this town’s look and character.

  2. Thank you Dave. If you believe – and want to get involved – then attend next Monday’s Planning Board hearing and challenge the PB to challenge the developer for a plan that could retain the train station as is. There are alternatives.

    The HPC blew their chances, but, by law, they only having a non-binding advisory opinion on development applications. The HPC is now comprised of 7 Class A & B members. What they legally lack is any Class C members – lay residents who have profess a HP interest. Not a big issue but a missing voice that could have had input into their comments to the PB. Bottomline is the Planning Board is the approval authority here, under the law, to protect or not protect the landmark.

  3. And to be very clear, the alternatives allow for the same size supermarket. So, the 4th Warders who pushed so very, very hard for a supermarket because they were living in “a food desert” need to step up and participate, too. No excuses.

  4. I’ll help you think frankgg.

    Here is your palette or space to work with: an 8 acre, level site with 512 existing parking spaces and an existing supermarket space.

    The developer is reducing the supermarket footprint 10% and putting the housing over a parking lot, pedestal style.

    They want to demolish 2/3rds of the historic train sheds so they will provide less parking (485 spaces) and give the residents a swimming pool and private amenity deck.

  5. Frank,

    Its late in the game for this critique. There’s been three tears of workshops and visioning sessions and countless HPC, PB and 4th ward meetings about Lackawanna.

    It would be helpful if you provided more than “I originally supported this development plan…” but now you don’t.

    Do you have any new ideas to share that would articulate a vision for the site?

  6. Oh what could have been….

    …however, as I feared, what began as a supposed “blank slate” of prime downtown 8 acres, truly a once-in-a _________ (fill in the blank with an arbitrary length of time) opportunity has devolved into what will be by far the biggest missed opportunity of the the downtown developments.

    With all of the current trends in placemaking public space, public plazas that intertwine the arts, food, culture and provide people with a place to “BE” rather than just park, consume and then drive away, we are going with the demolition of a significant portion of one of the most attractive and valuable structures in the area to make room for…you guessed it…CARS!

    Sadly, what could have been (and indeed was visioned at the earliest public outreach meetings) a public traditional central green surrounded by local retail shops, with places for live performance and civic gatherings that could have rivaled and, due to it’s acreage, even surpassed due Palmer Sq in Princeton or the Morristown Public Green, has been politicized, opinionated, debated and whittled down to the retention of the TD bank, 4 acres to the private realm for residential use and private pool and gym, and taking what is the biggest empty parking lot in Montclair….and you guessed it…expanding it!

    Goodbye to what could have been Church St. 2.0 and 3.0 combined…goodbye to vibrant public space in our downtown, goodbye to thinking in anyway outside the box (or actually, inside the box as it may be, as current market and economic trends argue entirely against this forthcoming uninspiring mix of chain supermarket, surface parking and private luxury residents with zero ground level activation)…Hello to anywhere USA…with maximum private gain at the total and utter expense of the “public good.”

    …Oh what could have been

  7. That is an excellent point/question. However, the developer, as is his choice, declined to pursue the Redevelopment Plan option and is submitting this application under the existing zoning. Therefore, the planning process, along with the public input was stopped immediately. We never finished the Redevelopment Plan.

    The developer only finished amending this plan 2/28. The first hearing was March 22. Their presentation was not finished, so it had to be carried to this 4/9 meeting. In short, the developer has not even completed his presentation and testimony to the PB & public. There has been no public comment as yet.

    I would argue this is timely, within the process we follow, and if the PB really wanted serious public comment, they should have every expectation there would input like mine. So, the argument my position is too late basically says public comment is for show and the backroom has decided what will be.

    Lastly, and probably most importantly, the role of the Planning Board to evaluate and approve/reject the application presented to them. There are no alternative presented, so this is what they have to work with. They are not there to problem solve, figure out, or present their own alternatives for a property owner to maximize their land use & revenues. The property owner has their own paid experts, that the process allows for, to do this.

    Unfortunately, my perception of the Planning Board has, over the years, moved away from (forgotten?) what they are there to do. Again, my perception, they tend to carry the water for large developers while holding smaller developers (e.g. Mr MacGregor) to a stricter standard.

    My vision for the site is for both preserving the train station and having the proposed 43,495 sf supermarket. My vision includes the obvious public good of preservation, but adds another public good of open space utilizing a portion of the preserved train shed. Admittedly, my vision doesn’t include such an expansive, private amenity space – with a swimming pool. My vision does no further harm to the existing Glenridge Avenue streetscape. My vision is that we take some of the creative thinking the Council has shown with the parking demand of our very large redevelopment projects and apply it to Lackawanna. My vision says we can park all customers, residents and visitors on site. There is no forum for me to present my vision. Such is the process.

  8. You should also note I posted an initiative a year ago about Lackawanna Plaza. It maybe got two likes out of 800 registered members. The point of the initiative was about how mobility would determine what would/could be built here. Admittedly, it was too esoteric. It was met with deaf ears of those the initiative targeted. My fault.

    Now, the town where the city meets the suburbs, the town with a phobia of height, the town is falling back to what we know – our 1960’s suburban required parking paradigm that determines what uses and where. This 8 acres is a major chunk of what we love to refer to as our Transit Village. A transit village is just part of the ecosystem of mobility. Maybe the next generation will get it.

  9. Time, supporters and experts are in short supply this week. Is there anyone – like an attorney, JJ – that can clarify whether an a Planning Boards decision can be appealed to the Council? Thanks in advance.

  10. When you think of it, Montclair’s Historic Preservation mechanism was destroyed years ago by “Camelot”… I’m sure you remember, Frank. That group of very energetic, generous “power couples” who did everything for the town, across all bases and organizations…. The problem is that although they were exciting and well intentioned, they did not have a grasp for the science of urban planning or knowledge of why Montclair was originally designed the way it was. The enlightened “Camelot” group felt that their energy, style, benevolence and efforts could transform Montclair Center into a gleaming bustling metropolis. (not understanding that Montclair was designed as a prototype for naturalistic green American train suburb with six train stops instead of a town with a “central station” and a typical town center). But, since Montclair was attractive and the second wealthiest community in the US at that time… and Mr. Pratt who was planning the train lines in the US lived here (he also invented the name Montclair)…. they built a “central station” anyway, but really just “for show” and a downtown for convenience that always remained quite passive and not as busy as Newark or East Orange’s centers.

    Anyway, the Camelot “group” vanished with time and left the preservation mechanism broken, powerless and “a joke”. (except for the brilliance and knowledge of the HPC chair Ms. Bennet, who is Montclair preservations saving grace at this point) More disrespect for history from the Montclair Historical Society. Their choice to never get involved with preservation efforts has been extremely harmful to Montclair… the Crane house was moved in the 60s (to a white neighborhood) and reinterpreted as a colonial anywhere USA homestead, hiding its diverse past and standing in Black History til now (they tried to move the “Freed Slave House” to behind the Crane House Museum and interpret it as “Slave House” (so disrespectful) …. The Black YMCA destroyed and now the Aubrey Lewis House (by Dudley Van Antwerp) is being destroyed …. The Montclair Historical Society has been effortless to try to preserve these important local landmarks. Having re purposed the organization into a “history information center” is useless because the Montclair Public Library is sincere and does a much better job. (and haven’t pissed off the community for decades)

    Frank, as you may know, I was put on the planning board for one night, way back when, just to have a “no vote” for the demolition of the Marlborough Inn. Since then, I have become Commissioner for two local municipalities and on state historical organization boards… while being shut out from Montclair’s preservation mechanism as a volunteer. (I took to writing about Montclair History on Baristanet… Its MUCH more fun! Instead Montclair hires and pays historic consultants, paid by the developers who are intermitted into the public advisory process. (this is a conflict of interest in my opinion and keeps Montclair preservation dead)

    The whole preservation and planning process must be re built not as an undermining force against historic preservation and the same for the Planning Department that is destroying Montclair’s Urbanism and landscape.

  11. P.S. They can’t preserve the station correctly if “The development application now before the township comes down to demolishing the major section of this historic site for an asphalt parking lot.” – no way! thats a GREAT location for a “Lambertsville-like” booming Saturday flee market business for the Montclair public. Don’t the planners have a grasp about what life is Montclair is really like?

  12. My knowledge of our early history is limited, so I’ll accept yours as a valid POV on this period. You involvement with the inn was interesting & unusual. Thanks for the sharing.

    Since its inception, the HPC has been the red-headed stepchild in our municipal land use family. Each chair has known this going in or quickly learned this on the job. I agree Ms. Bennett is a very capable chair. I also think the current HPC makeup is an impressive assembly of skills and experiences. Why they acquiesced on the train station, after fighting so hard to be included in the land use family mix, is for them to say.

    What I do know is that they have every right to amend their opinion now and take a stand for preserving the station. Ms Bennett, or a designated member, can provide a verbal report at the upcoming Planning Board hearing. Let’s see if they take advantage of this option.

    The mission of the Montclair History Center, formerly the Historical Society, has always been educational. They are the guardians of the past. My arms-length view of late is the MHC is newly invigorated with new leadership. I believe both the MPS and MHC are/have been valuable sources of historical reference on the train station. But, both stand off a safe distance from any position on the current era. I’m think that is fine.

    The residents aside, the biggest preservation antagonists have been the downtown business and property owners. Whole Foods, Belleclaire Apartments, Commerce Bank (now TD Bank), ARC Properties, etc. I also include our most-favored non-profits like the Art Museum and the Cope Center in this group. The BID’s membership could be a walking tour of non-compliance. They have the influence, the resources and the will to inhibit our public policy.

    I’m sure I missed them, but have you ever seen the BID pt up banners celebrating Historic Downtown?

  13. Speaking of Whole Foods, this HPC Chair is trying to get a historical designation for this building. This building is ripe for redevelopment. One reason is that it has an “unfriendly streetscape” facade. Meaning its street face is mostly a solid wall and the covered windows which do not contribute to a vibrant streetscape. The original HPC Chair argued that the Hahne & Company department store (now the Sienna), of a similar type, but with significantly more windows & large entryway, should be demolished. I guess it was also deemed obsolete.
    The Council agreed.

    Here is a photo of part of the facade. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/498070040029640402

    The MHPC & Council has long giveth and taketh away.

  14. The Whole Foods Building is of significant local modernist architecture designed by James Timpson of Essex Fells. He designed the PSE&G Building as well and other projects like the Fairway neighborhood in Upper Montclair, (I believe. Hahnes was also of significant modernist architecture that was consistent with a plan in the 40s to transform Montclair Center into a landscape of Modernist Buildings (The Hampton House was part of this scheme)
    The Hahnes Building was valuable architecture to Montclair Center and should have been repurposed and added onto and if it had to be demolished, the planners should have been smart enough to require that the building volume be pulled back from the sidewalk to expose the magnificent Louis Comfort Tiffany Window of the Christ Church that could have created an unforgettably distinguished and beautiful atmosphere for Montclair Center. (in that case, the Siena building volume could have even been taller… I would have loved to see a transparent glass spire there.) The planners who are responsible for that loss have no expertise or taste in my opinion and zero concern for the improvement of Montclair Center. My only consolation to the Siena Building (that I find to be a sub standard design for Montclair) is that I don’t think that that type of building outlasts the warrantees on the building materials and components.

  15. The train station’s public was once transient but now we require permanence, public good and good quality of life for that site.

  16. As I said, this application to demolish the train station is all about making a case for additional parking.

    The metric that counts here is what is called the Average Weekday, Peak Hour, Parking Demand. This counts all the customers, employees, residents & visitors that need parking at its highest level over the day. This has been confirmed by the Planning Board’s expert to be 1pm-2 pm hour on a typical weekday. This becomes the required parking capacity to be provided 24/7/365. Pretty straightforward.

    My experience is that developers typically try to obtain the lowest required capacity which is almost always less that our ordinance requires. Hence, the constant back and forth about whether to grant parking variances for deficiencies. Again, typical. Clear.

    Not here. Here, the developers’ parking expert says they need 59 spaces for the Pig & Prince bar/restaurant at that 1-2pm peak weekday demand. Well, the Pig & Prince (P&P) doesn’t offer lunch and the bar doesn’t open until 4pm. OK, maybe they will some day and it will be nice to have the parking available if they need it. So that day comes and the report says P&P is expected to serve more customers at the 11 am hour than any hour in the evening. Maybe this parking report is based on a MacDonalds?

    The expert’s parking report says that the 43,000+ sf supermarket will open with 3 employees. I guess a manager with the keys and a couple of stock people. It also shows the weekday staffing at 8am will be the same as 8pm; and 9am the same as 9pm.

    Supermarkets exist on the most razor thin profit margins of any retail segment. They don’t waste labor costs. They can’t. The trend for a while and the biggest growth category is prepared foods. They front-load their staffing for restocking, food prep, etc to maximize efficiencies, e.g. large batches rather than cook to order. They can’t afford to lose sales doing these activities when the majority of their customers are in the store….except maybe the old Pathmark. The report also shows a supermarket will staff more in the late afternoon into evening than the equal period before 1-2pm. About twice as much labor. Lastly, peak customer parking demand is only 7 cars (-5%) less than on a Saturday. I think any supermarket executive will say weekend days are, by far, their peak days. Typically, Sunday is bigger than Saturday and the biggest day of the week.

    These examples are just for starters, but this is the parking report to justify the demolition.

  17. The developer also wants to allocate 18,000 sf of the the site’s 21,000 sf total office space for medical office use. Maybe it could include an walk-in, urgent care station. Unfortunately, Montclair’s parking requirement for medical uses is 40% more than for general office space. This translates into 4 dozen more required spaces.

    So, you can see how expanding the West parcel’s original 107 space train station parking lot by 118 spaces to 226 spaces is needed. 226 spaces also creates a need for a second vehicle entrance – with turning conflicts with oncoming vehicles – which precludes 14 more potential parking spaces and also requires providing 4 more of the larger handicapped spaces.

    This is a redux of Valley & Bloom density issues. Pack it in. The more the better. This is certainly within the rights of the developer to ask for. It is just a question of whether this “smarter, we get it” current version of the Planning Board membership allows it…in exchange for an historic landmark.

  18. The Home Depot in Jersey City contains all of its parking volume in the footprint of it’s building, in a few floors over the store levels. Why not that?

  19. Further to my post above about that 18,000 sf of medical office use and 3,000 sf of general office, for the building’s total 21,000 sf.

    1.) The 3,000 sf classified as general office use is the medical use’s reception area, lobby, utilities and mechanicals. That’s a creative definition to avoid the medical use label.

    2.) At peak use, the average allocated amount of space per person, including patients and staff, is 258 square feet. The equivalent of giving each person their own 16’x16’ space. Spacious. Even luxurious. It must feel downright cavernous during off-peak hours.

    This is one of my all-time, most entertaining parking plans.


    The draft plan had a similar proposal with parking above the supermarket. That assumed the land was cleared. Not the case here, so not realistic.

  20. OK, that’s the end of the posts of details directed to the Planning Board. A PB that swears that articles & posts on Baristanet are not read, and more importantly, irrelevant to fulfilling their duties. This also allows them to be oblivious to any feedback posted here.

    To build on parkour’s point, and my last before Monday’s hearing, is that this plan forgoes making a pedestrian experience the anchor for this site. Instead, we are tweaking the commercial strip mall concept with its minimal pedestrian experience pushed out to the sidewalks along the streets. We are doing this even though we have Montclair’s minor equivalent to the NYC’s High Line just waiting to be reimagined.

    The Seymour Street had to create this from scratch. Imagine the project without the plaza and this plan still offers far less than that. Only in the case of Lackawanna Plaza, we don’t have to convert a public street to a public pedestrian nexus. We have the space under the historic train sheds.

    Why the 4th Ward voters aren’t getting this is beyond me. It certainly is not a question of foregoing a supermarket they need. The site already offers this option. The area immediately around the site lacks any off-street pedestrian experience. It is a pedestrian experience desert. Lackawanna Plaza ( the street) makes the old, obsolete South Park St look like a progressive jewel. One mistake from our Urban Renewal days, and obviously not a lesson we have learned well, was relying solely on commercial uses to invigorate a neighborhood center.

    The Township thinking on downtown now favors a mix of residential and commercial. Add a lot of lighting and it will appear vibrant. But, that thinking for a neighborhood center is incomplete without a way to bring not only residents out, but visitors from outside the neighborhood in to add vitality. The redevelopment plan draft did recognize the need for all three of these components. Well, that’s gone, but the concept is still valid.

    The proposed apartment building is designed as a self-contained space where residents can drive into their protected, reserved parking. If they need household supplies, they take their elevators down and walk through the tunnel, access restricted to them alone, directly into the supermarket. If they need open space, they can interact with themselves on their large, private amenity deck with their own pool.

    Admittedly, many will be new tenants to Montclair and won’t miss what was there and what could have been. They will make their way up the hill to Montclair Center, or other choices. There won’t be a reason to dwell around Lackawanna.

  21. With regards to Monday night’s meeting…..I feel that present planning mechanism in Montclair has shown themselves as not qualified enough to handle a redevelopment task as important as the historic Lackawanna Train Station. The planners are not knowledgable or careful enough to successfully preserve this valuable legacy.

    Diane Lewis the renowned architect and visionary who loved Montclair, whose memorial service was celebrated last year last the Guggenheim Museum by so many brilliant New Yorkers like Fran Leibowitz and important protagonists of the architecture world…. had this to say about planning and redevelopment for Montclair….

    “But we’re talking about something very deeply authentic that you have here that many other places in the United States do not any longer have. And when you do a Master Plan,
    Because your project here has the fragrance and the imagery of the Hudson River School in the deepest sense, in the fact of it being a structural landscape for architecture. This is not a study of separately beautiful architectural works. This is an entity and a physicality THAT HAS A LEGACY. 

    … So you have Inness and Olmsted at the same exact time transforming the vision of this landscape that we share from the Hudson River, which is transformed by his Swedenborgianism into a mystical, visionary, new landscape. It is not an English landscape. It has the ghosts of the Native Americans. It has a tragic dimension. And it has a mysterious dimension that we can say relates to the French visions of Faubourg Concept, the Cité Industrielle, or the tremendous influence of the Italianate, which is Fiesole, and areas which are developed settlements which have half-city, half-rustic qualities that are in Italy.”

  22. The sheds must absolutely remain “as is” to not destroy the historic significance or value of the landmark. The main historic fabric MUST NOT be adulterated….its like a preservation no brainer. Plus, where is some intelligent creative thinking for public benefit? Those sheds are the perfect venue for municipally permitted pop up garage sales (something like Lambertsville where the vendors… (or the public) rents the table space for the day) or for the farmers market or craft fairs. Commercial initiatives could be organized there and would bring good productive life to that location and economic possibilities for the public. Its incredible that the station was designated as an area of blight. What rubbish…. possibly thats what they wanted to push for so that the entire station had no significance or regulations to respect.

  23. “Incredible” seems like an appropriate characterization. The developer has acceded to the Preservation Commission’s post-demolition request to delineate, using the new asphalt parking lot surface, where the train sheds once stood.

    For those that remember, or have seen TV reruns, much the same as when the the police drew chalk outlines of the bodies at crime scenes.

    In sum:
    1.) The Township cites a history of crime as the demolition justification of the train sheds
    2.) The Township then recognizes this history by using an iconic crime scene feature of “outlining the bodies”.

    Maybe they can also put bronzed tent-cards numbering each column demolished? Much like they do with shell casings?

  24. Frank, I am grateful for your good dedication to this very bad situation. The Planning Board doesn’t have a clue and they are poised to destroy a valuable legacy.

  25. I’d think bigger.

    Most of what now exists between Pine Street, Bloomfield Ave, Lackawana Plaza/Greenwood Ave and GlenRidge Ave could be demolished. I’d keep the gas station, the new building next to it and the Pig and Prince portion of the old train station. Besides that what really is so terrific?

    On a big project you can do underground parking. Get a big supermarket, offices (not medical), moderate housing, some green space, a theatre. Forget luxury apartments. Make it nice, no foam, no fifteen different surfaces, no turrets.

    Of course this is all make-believe. The developer controls the property and the Planning Board. Bring on the disaster!

  26. Ah, the developer did have more control if they had gone the Redevelopment route. The Redevelopment Plan would have superseded the historic preservation ordinance and removed the protections of the train sheds.

    Now, their application is a garden variety site plan approval that falls under the existing historic preservation ordinance. This is what guides the Planning Board. Which means, their parking variance request aside, the township does have control over whether they can demolish a local landmark.

  27. The township should not have the power or entitlement to destroy a local landmark that is also considered one of the finest designed and built train stations in the US…. for their misunderstanding, greed or whatever….

    They should not have this “control” because they apparently do not understand the criteria and the value.

    Idem for the Aubrey Lewis House that is about to be destroyed and erased forever from our landscape. Unacceptable.




  28. frankgg,

    The Township is its citizens. Not to put too fine a point on this, but it is us who are demolishing our own landmark. We, the voters, would be essentially recognizing individual property rights over public policy – if, in fact, such a policy even exists. It technically exists in our Master Plan. It was recently outlined in great detail within the historic preservation element of that Plan. The approval of this application will show its worth for what it is.

    This approval will also end any conversation about a reconstituted demolition ordinance to protect potentially historic resources. And it should if the application is approved.

  29. It would be true that it is the township citizens themselves to demolish the landmark if it wasn’t for the real reality… that the municipal mechanism does not work and is basically not understood or trusted at this point by the community. Also, the current Master Plan is a flop and is not suitable or sustainable criteria for anything, really.
    This is a great and very valuable op-ed that you’ve done. Thank you very much. I’ve learned a lot! I truly hope that they won’t harm the landmark.

  30. I would differ with your 1st paragraph. So far it seems all I did was cause the needle to vibrate a little, for a little; mostly, by irritating the ineffectual historic preservationist & the SaveMontclair camps.

    My thanks goes to Baristanet & Editor Liz George for letting me use her sandbox to get on my soapbox.

  31. The continuation of the Lackawanna application to May 14th offers an unexpected gift to the township: time. Time to influence the course of this application.

    As my op-ed made clear, the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) made a egregious mistake in not recommending the train station’s preservation. It also ignored a central tenant of preservationist, “First, do no harm”.

    The HPC needs to first acknowledge this mistake and their intention to fix it. We all make mistakes. It is what we do to rectify our mistakes that weighs more. To do this they need to work as part of a broader team for a solution. They need help.

    It would have been helpful if they had their own preservation consultant to provide the necessary expertise & guidance. The HPC can’t hire experts because they can’t access developer escrow funds and the Council doesn’t fund the HPC to do so. It also would have been better if they could hire their own legal counsel. Like the other boards. Instead, they are served by the Township’s counsel. No offense to our attorney here, but he is in the delicate position of serving two masters where a conflict between the masters could be expected.

    The HPC should take the month’s reprieve to encourage the public’s (both stakeholders and individuals) participation & support at the April 22 HPC meeting (@ 7:30). The objective should be to revise their recommendation to now retain the train station and challenge for alternatives. They should identify whatever it was that lead to their original, flawed recommendation. They need to demonstrate they “get it” by outlining changes that may foster the public’s support.

    The elephant in the room is the town wide public apathy and lack of active public support for preserving this iconic landmark. The Council reflects this constituency. When untold dozens came out and challenged the Master Plan, the Council listened. When similar numbers spoke out against the deplorable conditions at our animal shelter, the Council listened. The Council supported the many 4th Warders in the irreplaceable harm of losing open space to a well when there were other water supply alternatives. How about all those 1st Warders who spoke out & signed petitions to save the library’s historic Bellevue Branch and the Bellevue Theater. Here we have a historic landmark versus a parking lot and yet we can hear the crickets in every ward.

    We have all had our excuses. I had mine. But, now we have this gift of more time. We should use it.

  32. It seems the developer’s parking study has been removed from the Township web site and the developer announced last night that they were bringing in a new traffic consultant. In the middle of a hearing process? Unusual to say the least.

  33. The preservationist camp is intentionally undermined, its always a battle. Thank you for your efforts Frank, you’ve done something very very good.

  34. Frankgg,

    Thank you for the compliment. Whether it is good work will ultimately be determined by the outcome.

    I agree preservation is undermined and the Council has not been a good role model. Our parks, including Edgemont Park, were identified as significant historic resources in the Master Plan. This Master Plan premise has led to our land use boards referring applications to the HPC for opinions. Not the Council. The Council approved the $900K renovation of Edgemont based on sign-offs by… the Friends of Edgemont and the Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee. Not the Historic Preservation Commission. It is irrelevant whether the Council believed this to be minor changes to the park. It is more relevant that for a $900K expenditure they didn’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s. If they had referred it, 3 things would have resulted:

    1. Sign-off by the HPC that the changes are appropriate

    2. Suggestions by architecture & design experts to improve the plan or call out design issues

    3. Public comment – which to the HPC’s credit is the only land use body that allows public comment on referrals

    I think the Council views the HPC process as a hindrances that developers have to bear, but they do not. Hopefully, the library board will be a little more astute with planning of their $13MM renovation by asking the HPC for conceptual review of their presentation this Spring before they start drafting the designs.

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